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Accessibility and Inclusion

For Pittsburgh to be a true City of Tomorrow, we need to include the voices and needs of people with disabilities.

Photo of Heather Tomko
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I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), and have used a power wheelchair for my whole life. I also work, go to school, and go out with friends and family to explore the city, just like everyone else. But many transportation options don't consider the needs of people with disabilities at the outset - our needs are often an afterthought, retroactively and clunkily tacked on to existing solutions. Things that are a minor inconvenience for others - cracked and broken sidewalks, missing curb cuts, buses that don't pull up to their designated stops or block a crosswalk - are major problems for me, and can cause me to have to backtrack and find a new, navigable route. While other city residents can call an Uber or a Lyft, I can't, because these services do not currently offer accessible vehicles. If Pittsburgh wants to be a model for other cities, and a true City of Tomorrow, it is imperative that the voices of people with disabilities are included moving forward.

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Photo of Karen Ruszala-Suchy

I agree with Heather, My daughter has Cerebral Palsy and uses 2 crutches to get around in the city. She cannot get a bus to work,especially in the winter for the fact  she has to walk in the snow and ice for 2 - 3 blocks to just get to bus stop. They need to enforce the clearing of sidewalks IN and OUT of town when it snows. Why can't they have the little shuttle in town for the handicap and elderly to take to the bus stops since they took almost all the handicap parking spots out.   Thanks for listening.

Photo of Aly Stone

Karen, thanks so much for sharing. I hear a lot of people complain about sidewalk cleaning just as an annoyance of inconvenience, but considering mobility for people with physical disabilities, I'm realizing just how important it really is to keep the sidewalks safe. How does your daughter usually end up getting to work in the winter during snow?....which seems to last forever around here!

Photo of Karen Ruszala-Suchy

I usually drive her to work every day since we live a pretty good distance from the nearest bus stop. But with her using 2 crutches I also need to get out of the car and assist her into the door way of the building, for work or any place she goes so she does not fall on the unkept sidewalks. If she would take the T, she would have the same problem,walking through downtown by herself. I have a daughter who has a Master's degree, she tries her best to not let anything hold her back(including her disability),works full-time and a part-time job, but getting around in the city is a major road block a lot of the times. Taking Ubers and Lyfts all the time can be very costly. Access, forget that , they are never on time for someone with a career or younger person on the go. It can be frustrating for her and myself as well, She doesn't drive at all. I know the city is putting in the ramps on all the corners which is awesome,maybe they can also use a different type of paint in the crosswalks, that paint is terrible when wet. you slip or wipe out, not sure if its a oil base or what ,but its horrible walking on it in the rain,or snow. Thanks for listening.

Photo of Aly Stone

Hi Heather, I'm Aly, a community facilitator here. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. You bring up such an excellent point. You've listed a few specific problems that get in the way of your mobility around the city, and I was hoping you could tell us more. For instance, how often are you finding missing curb cuts or buses that don't bus up to the proper spot, does this occur at a specific time of day? Does this happen more commonly in specific neighborhoods or routes? And when you do have to backtrack, how easy is it to find new routes that work?
Thanks again for shedding some light on these challenges for us.

Photo of Heather Tomko

Hi Aly - happy to share more details; thanks for reaching out!

I think that the missing curb cut issue is definitely getting better. There are still a few downtown (though I don't remember the exact locations). When I have to backtrack after these, it's not too far - usually I have to go back to the beginning of the block I just came from, and cross at the beginning rather than the end. I do find that often, when there's a sidewalk closure due to construction, there is no temporary ramp placed near the closure, so then I have to backtrack again. I do know that each year, when the pedestrian pathway is created during the Marathon (to take viewers from the race course to the finish line area at the Point) there is one part of it that takes you down a flight of stairs, with no signage for people with disabilities.

Sometimes, what can be more problematic than missing curb cuts is the sidewalk conditions, especially in Squirrel Hill and Shadyside. The sidewalks can have cracks the size of potholes, or sometimes, due to tree trunks growing, one section can be pushed up so high that it essentially creates a step. When this happens, I have to go onto the road. And in the winter, many sidewalks in these neighborhoods (especially in the more residential areas) are not cleared, again making the sidewalks impossible for me to navigate.

I'm not a frequent bus rider, but the issue of bus drivers not pulling up to the proper spot is something that I've paid close attention to as a pedestrian, and I would say that bus drivers do not stop at the designated spot at least 50% of the time. I realize that it's possible they would stop at the correct spot if I were in the bus, but that shouldn't need to happen. When they fail to stop at the correct spot, they also create issues for people with strollers, etc., and also can create traffic flow problems as they block intersections. When I did ride the bus, I found that many drivers were not comfortable with using the tie-down system to keep my wheelchair from sliding while the bus moved. Some drivers were great, but many did not know how to use them.

Finally, one thing I have noticed all over the city is that the buttons to get the pedestrian walk/don't walk signals to change are often so high on the pole that they are out of my reach. For some intersections, the pedestrian signal doesn't change with the light itself - it relies on the button being pressed for it to change. This happens to me frequently at the corner of the Carnegie Library and Schenley Plaza in Oakland - I have to risk going out into traffic just to cross the street.

Photo of Aly Stone

Wow, thank you for the detailed response. This is such important information. The point about the buttons being so high just seems like such a simple oversight to me....you'd think placing them lower or making two buttons would be the logical approach.

Photo of Heather Tomko

I think Karen Ruszala-Suchy 's comment about parking is a valuable one. It's important to keep in mind that handicapped parking is already incredibly limited and poorly enforced. So when parking is removed for other initiatives like bike lanes (which I fully support the expansion of), the number of handicapped spaces is disproportionately decreased. Both bike lanes and handicapped parking spaces are valuable, and we need to make sure we're not helping one community of people at the expense of another.